UC San Diego scientists have developed a new method for creating soft, flexible, 3D-printed robots in a span of a few minutes and without any special equipment.
Instead of figuring out how to add soft materials to a rigid robot body, the researchers started with a soft body and added rigid features to key components.
Led by professor Nick Gravish, the scientists contend that the structures were inspired by insect exoskeletons, which have both soft and rigid parts.
They have hence called their creation as ‘flexoskeletons.’
The flexoskeletons are made from 3D printing a rigid material on a thin sheet that acts as a flexible base.
They are printed with various features that increase rigidity in specific areas – again inspired by insect exoskeletons, which combine softness and rigidity for movement and support.
One flexoskeleton component takes 10 minutes to print and costs less than $1. Moreover, flexoskeleton printing can be done on most low-cost commercially available printers.
According to the scientists, printing and assembling a whole robot takes under 2 hours.
Researchers surveyed a range of materials until they found the right flexible surface – sheet of polycarbonate – to print the flexoskeletons on.
Careful observation of insect behavior led them to add features to increase rigidity.
The scientists’ ultimate goal is to create an assembly line that prints whole flexoskeleton robots without any need for hand assembly.
Image and content: David Baillot/UC San Diego via Eurekalert